From the moment the phone rings; from the moment someone walks through the front door, we are always there to assist. We are asked to wear many ballcaps, and be the sidekick to our client’s superhero. However, I have learned that we are so much more than that.
When I walked into the world of Law back in August 2014, I quickly realized that it’s true what they say – what you learn in a classroom versus what you learn through practical application on the job, are two different worlds. I’m sure that many have said the same thing about other industries, but what makes the legal system so different? Well, I thought I was going to be a “paralegal.” Truth is that I am a paralegal, and a researcher, and a public relations practicioner, and the biggest shoulder to cry on if there ever is one. So, why am I all these jobs?.. because I am a paralegal.
From my perspective, once I receive the call that a potential client needs assistance, I quickly schedule them onto our calendar for the next available appointment. That client comes through the door and most of them enter with such trepidation. I can quickly see it in their eyes. It appears as if they are walking into the unknown, or swimming in the ocean and unable to see their feet through the water (Remember “Jaws”?) I greet them with a smile, and present them with an intake sheet where they are expected to provide some background about themselves. This is no different from a doctor’s or dentist’s office but for some reason, their eyes grow wider and they begin to scramble to find their vital statistics. After asking the client if they would like something to drink, or if they would like the television turned on for them, I begin to see their shoulders sink a bit. They begin to find some comfort in the sofa or chairs in the waiting room and forget about what happens next.
Suddenly, a large voice booms through the hallway and it happens to be the attorney greeting them to his office. What was once becoming a relaxed atmosphere has now turned nuclear. The trepidation kicks in and a genuine fear now appears. However, as with any great attorney, it is their job to put that client at ease immediately. Laughs are shared, handshakes are given, and a warm welcome to the office is provided. Sometimes I attend the meetings if I need to translate from Spanish to English, but usually I await the client after they are asked a series of questions that have made them ask if they will be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I realize that it is part of the job but I cannot help feeling bad for these clients who are trying so desparately to stay with their families in lieu for leaving them behind and going back to countries who are in horrible conditions.
As a researcher, the attorney depends on me to find the answer he needs. It really is as simple as that. Here is the case, here is the problem, now what is the answer? If we can find the answer, then it can be used to make or break our case; in other words determine a client’s fate. Even with the right answers, I have learned that anything can still happen. Then comes the most important part to me personally – talking to the client and getting answers from them. Will all clients be forthcoming with answers? Not at all because sometimes the truth hurts if you have to relive it. This is where my shoulder becomes important. There are times when a case requires an affidavit on behalf of the client, and within the affidavit, the nightmares of the client have to be spoken about. I have found that clients will get quiet during these times. It is not only my job to relax them and assure them that they will be okay; but it is my job to also pull the whole truth out of them regardless if I trigger up nightmarish memories. The box of tissue is usually required at this stage, as is a nice break for the client. I sit back while they gather together, and I truly am in awe of them. The stories they have lived through are remarkable. Stories of true survival are told and to see these people in front of me today is simply miraculous. I tell them how proud I am of them for sharing this information and I humbly am proud. It is not easy to tell the truth, and it is certainly not easy to relive such thoughts.
Then, as the process progresses, I get the occasional phone call from them to find out how things are going. I let them know that I will call them when I have some news. Life unfortunately is not always about good news, but when that good news arrives, the phone call to the client is the best ever. Sitting with the attorney and sharing that news is what is the most rewarding aspect of the job. To hear, and to sometimes see that monkey jump off the back of our clients is we fight for daily. I realize that in legal terms I may be a sidekick, but when I share that news, and know how much of my work went into the success of the case, I feel like I am the superhero too.
For those who are hesitant to approach an attorney to fight for your cause, take a breath and jump in with feet first. No, not all attorneys are evil villians. A few bad apples do ruin a bunch but you will find that anywhere you go. Attorneys are not here to take your money; they are here to fight for you, to argue for your cause; to win at all costs because they believe in you so much that they will go to no end to provide you with a positive outcome. As for the paralegal, we are always here by the attorney’s side fighting for the same beliefs and principles, and championing your rights. We will give you our time, our best efforts, and our positive energy. When you walk into a law firm, you join a team who is ready to take you as their star receiver and together make their way to the end zone.
Remember, feet first to make that dive. Keep your nerves to one side and be ready to fight for your life when you hire an attorney. Let them lead your team to victory, and let us paralegals create that playbook to earn that victory.
Written by Kris Alvarenga